The fight

Being pregnant has made me think a lot about the process to bring Ephrem home. I’m  not sure why. I guess because in the moment, I didn’t appreciate all that I learned through that process. Having not gone through physical labor, I can say that the adoption was one of the hardest things I’ve done. I thought a lot about how emotionally tough the process to bring Ephrem home was, for so many reasons. Some days, you feel like every step is a fight, and sometimes you’re fighting something you didn’t expect.

Baby Shows Referral

I was fighting the (vocal) opinions of people who didn’t understand adoption as Plan A. They didn’t understand why we didn’t “try” to have our “own” kids first. They hadn’t seen what I saw in orphanages in East Africa, so this decision to adopt first without knowing whether we could have biological children was boggling to them. I mean, I understood. What we were doing wasn’t “normal.” It was a little a lot different.  But, still, their reaction discouraged me. While we were overwhelmed by support, these few challenging reactions hurt because it felt so personal.

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We had to fight through the paperwork and the legal process. Our process was extremely and unusually fast, but it’s still hard to endure. You have a mountain of paperwork to complete and collect. You have to track down every document that says you’re you. You spend a lot of time in “hurry up and wait” mode. After the dossier is complete, very little is in your control or on your timeline. Because we got Ephrem’s referral so early in the process, it felt like he was waiting on us and there was relatively little I could do to speed up the process. I just had to pray and wait. Pray and wait. Pray and wait. And because we adopted internationally, we didn’t know a lot of what was going on. I still remember the day in January (right off the plane from a visit to Africa) where I got the email that we had passed court in his country. I didn’t even know that we were at the court process!

Group photo

We had to fight through the fundraising. There are legal fees, agency fees, immigration fees (for international adoption), and (in our case) foster care costs. The overall cost of adoption sucks. It’s a huge barrier for most families (and why some families will never start an adoption). Overall, our adoption was tens of thousands of dollars to complete. We had $1,000 in savings when we started. We had to pray, hold yard sales, pray, apply for grants, pray, and depend on the generosity of our friends and families (and sometimes strangers) to make this possible. I think God redeems the cost to bring Himself glory, because, honestly, there was no way on our own we would have been able to raise the funds we needed.

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Like so many things in life, I didn’t understand the process at the time. I mean, in my head I could say it was part of making our family through adoption. But in my heart, as soon as I saw his photo, I just wanted him home. I wanted the obstacles to go away. I just wanted to hold this precious little boy and tell him that I was his mother and that I would love and protect him forever.

Family photo MCO

What I didn’t realize was that the process was making the “love and protect forever” possible. The “fight” was making this child mine – so that when I said “I will love and protect you forever” I knew what that meant because I had been living it for a year before he came home. He didn’t grow in my belly like Baby Girl Shows. As I feel her growing, I think I take for granted that this child in my womb is mine. I couldn’t take Ephrem being my son for granted. I needed to fight for him because I needed to know what a parent would do for her child. I needed to fight for him because he and I needed to know that my unconditional love started before I saw his photo, when he was just a prayer in my heart. I needed to fight for him because he was the child who grew in my heart. I don’t ever want to take for granted what it took to make him our son.

So for those of you who are in the process, fight on. It will be hard. You will have moments when you don’t feel strong enough. You will have moments when you are discouraged. You will have moments when you ask why this couldn’t be easier. But the fight makes you a family. The fight is what grows this child in your heart.

What to say?

Sorry for the silence. Aside from trying to gain my bearings as I’ve transitioned out of my full-time job, I didn’t post anything because I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep this secret if I blogged:

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Baby Shows 2 due April (I’m 12 weeks in this photo)

Yup, we are having a biological child. I’m due April 19, which feels like it’ll be here before I know it. We found out in August and it was a hard secret to keep.

Obviously, everything feels different this time around. Instead of looking at a photo of child who is growing halfway around the world, I see my ever-growing stomach expanding. Instead of the paper chase and madly fundraising, I see doctors and can rely on health insurance. Instead of a child growing in my heart, I have a sonogram of the child being knitted in my womb. Instead of airplanes and travel to the most amazing continent, we will be driving to a hospital and meeting our new person.

The processes are different, but my prayer is still the same: That this child would grow in grace, love, and faith and know that God loves him/her very much and that I would be equipped to mother both of these children in the way that brings out the best that God has for them.

While the processes are different, both paths have been uniquely beautiful.

However, I can say that I love that God called us to adoption first. I grew significantly in my faith during that process. I learned so much about God’s faithfulness to us. Although the learning curve on parenting a child who has already experienced so much has been high, I am grateful for the opportunity to be Ephrem’s mommy. From the moment I saw his first photo, I saw my son and was determined to do anything to protect him. It made me realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that love makes a family, not DNA. 

Ephrem & Mommy

That’s a lesson that I don’t take for granted. I remember when we first came home and Ephrem was so scared, so insecure. And we were clueless. We have had to learn to be a family. He has learned to trust us. We have learned how to parent in a way that best suits him. We learned to love first and laugh deeply. We learned that love is an action, more than it is that warm fuzzy feeling in our hearts or words from our mouths.

So this next child may not come home on an airplane, but this child will enter the world into a family that has learned to love well.

Wherever You Are

I’m celebrating because one year ago today I got to hold Ephrem for the very first  time. I had studied his little face for nine months and prayed so many wordless prayers for his health, safety, love, and care.

But this day, 365 days ago, I saw his beautiful little smile for the very first time.

This day, 365 days ago, a woman placed Ephrem in my arms in the airport parking lot in Africa, and he was physically a part of our family forever.

This day, 365 days ago, my heart got its second deepest wish: to be a mother.

Ephrem, you are one of the very best gifts I’ve ever received in this life and I cherish May 29 always because it’s the day that we met.

At a restaurant, the first full day together

“I wanted you more than you will ever know, so I sent my love to follow wherever you go…” – Nancy Tillman

A new year

For the past two years, I have entered the New Year on this continent:

Photo courtesy of Austin Taylor

Photo courtesy of Austin T.

But this year, I’m here:

Photo Courtesy of Lauren Grow

Photo Courtesy of Lauren G.

It’s a little disorienting not to be traveling this time of year, to be honest. But, while I miss Africa, I miss the children that I get to meet, I miss serving the fatherless, I miss the food, and I look forward to going back at some point in the next few years, I am grateful for my reason for staying home this year: My beautiful family is on one continent this year. And I don’t want to be away from my husband or my toddler for two weeks.

2012 was a great year for us. When I got home from Africa last year, in addition to adorable photos of our Little Man, I got an email that the Congolese government had recognized our adoption. There was one less orphan in the world who was yet to be home. With a miracle of funding (through the generosity of many of you), Ephrem came home six months later. We have grown into our family. Attachment is a process, one that has felt overwhelming at times and is indescribably beautiful overall. When I consider what God has done in all three of us over the past six months, I am speechless. We have a son who calls us Mama and Dad. We have a son who is opinionated and loves spicy food. We have a son who adores Elmo. We has a son who sleeps. (Seriously, that last one is HUGE!) We have a son who seeks us when he needs to be comforted.

We have a son.

As we go into 2013, we are a family.

My heart is open and eager to see what awaits our family in 2013.

I am confident that God has big things in store.

May you be blessed as 2012 ends and 2013 begins.

The Lord bless you, and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.’

Numbers 6:24-26

James 1:27 and the Box

Living James 1:27 out has turned my world upside-down. Even before we adopted, James 1:27 threatened my normal American life. It wasn’t convenient to give up vacation and time with my husband to spend two weeks in Africa visiting and caring for orphans. My friends and family thought I had lost my mind to voluntarily go to Africa. It wasn’t easy to see abject poverty and not be able to change the way the world works so these kids will have a chance. It wasn’t fun to know that many of these children will never have a family. It was intimidating to think about what James 1:27 (or any of the other verses about caring for the widows and orphans) could mean to my nice, clean idea of my faith.

 

But that’s when I engaged my faith in a way that I think made me really “get it.” That’s when I really saw Jesus – in the eyes of beautiful children who happen to be fatherless. That’s when I felt His heartbeat. That’s when I learned that caring for orphans and vulnerable children with a $35 check each month wasn’t enough. That’s when I learned the power of holding hands and giving hugs to children who will not get them otherwise. That’s when faith wasn’t about going to church every week and meeting my “obligations,” but really living the eternal life that Christ died for (because, yes, you don’t have to wait for that to begin when you die…).

And adoption? Adoption has taken my faith to a whole other level. I now see God as a loving Father. I now know mercy and grace in a way I never would have experienced it before. I now look in my son’s dark eyes and see a future and a hope, not fear. I hold my son and know what an amazing miracle was done in his little heart and body for him to be here with us. I believe with all my heart that he would have died without a family who prayed for him for the eight months we waited for him.

So when I hear of someone tell people of his faith tradition not to adopt, to deny what I feel is a key part of our scriptural mandate(yeah, I don’t think it’s an optional part of our faith tradition) to care for the widows and orphans up close and personal and, for some of us, to adopt them to be part of our families, I am angry that people think that this little person represents my faith. I want that person to know that I pity his small version of Jesus. I think that sort of view of Christ cuts out 99% of the Gospels I read. I pity him for not wanting families to be representative of the family of God. I am annoyed at his underlying racism. And I am sad for him because he simply doesn’t “get it.” I am sad that God’s grace is limited to what is convenient to him. His version of God is confined to a nice neat American box.

I don’t think God lives in that box, Mr. Robertson.

(Thanks to my friend Kelly for sharing this video with me!)

Homecoming Video!

For those of you who weren’t able to join us at the airport, here’s a slideshow of Ephrem’s homecoming. (My brother-in-law is working on the video video – which will be much better than my amatuer slideshow, I’m sure! – but I wanted my family to be able to see his homecoming story, even in just photos.) It’s been an amazing journey and I’m so grateful to have Little Man home. (If you’re new, you can read about our adoption story here.)

Seeing these photos reminded me about God’s redemption. Ephrem never smiled in his update photos. I was concerned. Then I held him for the very first time, and he smile at me. God takes the lonely and sets them in families. This is the God that we serve.

We are so blessed.

Thanks to Lauren, Robin, and John for the photos.

 

Hope (again)

Thank you to everyone who commented or emailed or messaged me on Facebook to reassure me that 1) How I feel is normal, 2) I will make it, and 3) Eventually Little Man will sleep and my sanity will return. (It might not be for 17 years, but eventually.) In the moment, it’s hard to walk this path when you feel alone. And parenting through attachment, sleepless nights, and normal toddler-hood is nothing if it doesn’t feel isolating. As new parents who had to hit the ground running, I am often baffled by the question, “Is this in the bounds of normal?”

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But the beauty of this journey is that while no one can do the hard stuff for us, we are constantly supported through encouragement by our family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers. We are truly enveloped by your love. Thank you for helping me to see that, yep, this is all normal.

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With another turn in our story, I’m not sure I can say that I understand God’s ways in this particular moment, but I hold fast to this truth: God is good. That alone means that He will guide us in His will, which is perfect and good for all those who love Him. Even when it feels like a desert place because of the drought, God is faithful to provide for His children through the season. I might not see the purpose, the plan, or understand the reason, but I know, I know that my God, my Jehovah Nissi, my El Roi, my Jehovah Shalom is for me.

Today, I read a post by a blogger/writer I follow. She posted it last week. I read it when I needed it (today). I hope it encourages you as it did me.

When you know your Father’s loving — what can you fear losing?

He’s as calm as a man walking on water.

He hears us. He loves us. He has us. So whatever happens, He’s good and we’re good.

I look at him — He’s like a man completely resting on water. Isn’t that it? We pray to the Lord knowing His answer is Love.

And God is no genie and we don’t pray to God to pry something from God. We pray to God to be prepared by God for a purpose of God.

We don’t pray to get more from God — we pray to become more in Christ.

We pray because entering His presence is the answer to all our prayers.

Somedays just laying our head in His hands is the way we lay the burdens down.

The scars on His hands were made to be the perfect ditches for our tears....[Continue reading on A Holy Experience]

Empty

So I’ve been MIA for a while. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say. I do. I have thoughts on becoming a transracial family and what race now means to me. I have thoughts about mothering. I have many, many thoughts on adoption. But I’m battling with exhaustion. Things are better than when we first came home, for sure. But I still feel like I’m in the trenches.

I am physically exhausted because Ephrem still struggles a lot with sleep. On a good night, we are up 1-2 times with him. On a not-so-good night, it’s every 45-75 minutes. The not-so-good nights are more frequent than the good nights. I wish I knew how to help him sleep better because we are all soooo sleep deprived (us more than him, I think), but for now, our course of action is just to keep doing what we are doing.

But it’s more than being worn out as a new mom.

Here’s my private confession (that I’m making to anyone who reads this, I guess): more than the physical exhaustion, I am spiritually exhausted. I am empty. I am dry. I am emotionally drained and now unsure how to refill.

Motherhood has been the most beautiful, most meaningful ministry I have ever done. Pouring love and speaking life into that almost 13 month old little boy is an amazing, treasured gift. But this ministry is one that takes every ounce of strength, patience, and endurance I have. I sit back in awe of the mothers who are doing motherhood well, and who are able to still minister to others. I knows some of my struggle relates to insecurity as a new mom. I’m constantly asking myself if I’m doing things “right.” Motherhood is a high-pressure role because it feels like everyone is watching, everyone has an opinion, and the cultural expectations are high. (Thank you, Dr. Freud.) Add to that the pressure of attachment. This in itself is exhausting.

So right now I find myself empty. Honestly, some of this is the challenge of finding the dedicate time I need to spend time in God’s word – quite a feat with a little one who wakes up at 5:30am. And naptime fails because it’s the only chance to get everything else done and/or recover from not sleeping the night before. Still, I’m trying to read a brief devotion to get something, but even with that, I feel like I haven’t heard God’s voice speak to my heart in far too long. I am in the desert place.

Until I hear This voice again, I will “cling to His garment.” Psalm 40 will be my prayer:

I waited patiently for the LORD;
And He inclined to me and heard my cry.

He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay,
And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God;
Many will see and fear
And will trust in the LORD.

How blessed is the man who has made the LORD his trust,
And has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood.

Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which You have done,
And Your thoughts toward us;
There is none to compare with You.

If I would declare and speak of them,
They would be too numerous to count.
(Psalm 40:1-5)

One Month-aversary!

Little Man, it’s been one month since we’ve been with each other. I can’t believe that you haven’t always been a part of my life.

Flight from Brussels to Kinshasa

 

On the plane, so excited to get to meet you!

I don’t have any photos of the first moment I held you, but it was wonderful. We had prayed that you would smile at me and, after a few chugs on your bottle, you took it out of your mouth to smile at me. And my heart was yours.

At a restaurant, the first full day together

In one month, here’s what I’ve learned about you:

1) You will do back-flips for bananas. Okay, not really, but you really, really like banana.

2) You prefer to be held whenever possible, unless there is something intriguing to play with. But mostly, you’d rather be held.

3) You love to clap your hands.

4) You love TV, even though mommy doesn’t let you watch it yet, you will crane your neck to see what’s on a screen in a store, restaurant, or wherever!

5) You have the most adorable giggle in the world.

6) Knocking over towers is something that you will gladly do over and over again.

7) You love to play “Getcha, getcha!” and have mommy and/or daddy chase you around the “loop” (kitchen to the living room).

8) You have charming dimples that make my heart melt, even when you’re being ornery.

9) You like guacamole, but not avocados. You’ll eat the avocados out of guacamole, though.

10) I love you more than I could have possibly imagined or thought possible. (Okay, that last one is sort of about me.)

 

I can’t imagine me without you. I now know that my heart resides outside my body. It rests with you.

Mommy and Ephrem at the hotel (if I look tired it’s because I am!)

 

I can’t believe how much you’ve grown since that first day. You’re learning so much (even what “no” means) and getting so big.

I love you with my whole heart, Ephrem. I hope you will know that until forever.